"Mother Onion"

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

The submarine tender, USS Orion (AS-18) was a floating wonderland of repair shops, supply distribution points, stores, medical facilities, and entertainment. The boredom of constant in port duty had turned all the personnel assigned to quarterdeck watches into poor, wretched, sorry excuses for human beings and rendered them completely devoid of the ability to exercise common sense. When diesel boat sailors transited this hallowed area, comments like "scarecrow navy", "friggin bums", and "riff raff" were thrown around in an indiscriminate manner.

It was a helluva lot easier to use the lower brow - kinda like the tradesman's entrance. The only problem with this point of entry were creatures called master-at-arms and bos'n mates... Strange forms of primative life that roamed around on surface ships, spreading ill will and evil attitude.

Proper nomenclature and use of officially condoned and authorized Naval terms was very important to these high hashmark, brain-dead idiots. It was their 'Mother's Milk'... They used pirate movie vocabulary...

"Avast matey, there be a vessel on the lew'ard quarter, arrrgh..."

If it was a slow day and you wanted to wind up the organ grinder's monkey for entertainment, all you had to do was say, "Hey, Doc..."

(They hated to be called "Doc", "Hoss", or "Mr. Sailorman...")

"Hey Doc... How'd I get to where the officers do all their officer stuff?"

"Crissakes son, how long you been in the Navy?"

"Not long, Hoss, how 'bout you?"

"Long enough to know you're one (blanking) hopeless mother (blanker)!"

This was funny because I wasn't the fool who was about to jump out of his brogans and have a heart atack.

"Yeah Doc, last time I was over on your big boat, I think your officers lived upstairs at the end of a big gray hall with a lot of doors, fire extinguishers, pipes and electrical wire, and stuff..."

This kind of Naval sacreligious talk could make all the veins stand out on the neck of any sonuvabitch with fouled anchors below his crow. And, if he went into one of those "In the OLD Navy..." routines, you had him. He would then throw terms at you like,

"Midships, th'wartships... 02 deck, up ladder, stb'd passageway, to the companionway aft of frame 32..."

Once they started tossing around that Charlie Tuna talk, their eyes lit up. For one fleeting moment suspended in time, this poor pitiful excuse for a human being became Popeye, Barnacle Bill and the kid off the Cracker Jack box, all rolled into one seafaring clown act.

"Thanks buddy, I like that neat Navy talk... You musta paid a lot of attention to all that Navy silly shit in bootcamp... I'll bet your mama's real proud of you..."

By this time, even a certifiable idiot would unravel your act.

Once you got into 'Mother Onion', there were endless forms of things to do, to amaze and entertain yourself.

Up off the boat deck was the radio shack. Radiomen have to go in and out of officer's country all the time, so they gotta be clean and neat. Radio shacks are the best places to steal white hats. Radiomen on the Orion never seemed to figure that out

You could always go down to the forward area where the 'T' Division bunked down. There was a good chance you could find some intellectually stimulating literature laying around... Magazines with articles like, "I was an American sailor trapped on an island inhabited by sex-crazed Amazon women." This kind of historically accurate recounting of little details previously unknown, contributed to a rapid increase in one's Naval awareness.

I once walked into a sophisticated, highly technical, state-of-the-art photo lab on the Orion. I found two highly placed members of the Naval establishment using massive carbon arc lights to cook frozen pizzas. I left with a renewed faith and elevated confidence in the military preparedness of the Naval establishment - and two hot slices of pepperoni pizza.

There was a vicious rumor that non-rated men would go to the tender to dope off and waste time, endlessly screwing around to no particular purpose. Whenever some authority drunk keeper of the flame and all-Navy gatekeeper would come toward you with that "What in the hell are you doing here?" look in his eye... We would smile and launch a preemptive strike...

"Pardon me Chief, where are we supposed to go to donate the blood you guys called for, to help those Taiwanese typhoon victims?"...

Hell, sometimes the old bastards went for it like a #5 dry fly. Most of the time though, they played 'Pin the Tail on the Wiseass'.

They were always blowing whistles and passing, "Now hear this..." bulletins over their 21 MC.

"Now hear this... Orion arriving..."

"Now hear this... Orion departing..."

"Now hear this... Uniforn of the day for all ship's company not engaged on work details... Undress blues..."

Sometimes we'd get so damn depressed, we'd have to go the radio shack and steal another white hat.

On Orion, there was a wierd cult of unsalvagable individuals known as postal clerks. Two occupations I never figured out - Orion postal clerks and people who raise nightcrawlers for live bait stores. Can you imagine a 30 year career sorting and bagging mail?

I once walked through a heavy machine shop. They had equipment there fully capable of turning out a prop shaft for the biggest ship afloat... Six guys were busting their ass turning out two inch high monel metal chessmen. They had just completed what appeared to be five to six hundred rooks.

They had a ship's service and a geedunk that did a landslide business in steel belted hot dogs and stale potato chips. Hell, you could buy monogrammed lighters, pen sets, brooches, pendants, even little 'USN' dangly earrings - to use as 'pogey bait' for that honey with loose panty elastic... or maybe a sonargirl...

In those days, the Orion was in a life and death race with rust. Bos'n mates were still considered to be part of the human race, and the submarine force had degenerated to the point it was sending forth emissaries to steal, scavange and wholesale appropriate whatever was necessary to keep the petroleum-powered submersibles from taking up permanent residence in Davy Jones locker.

This was the point in Naval history where some enterprising genius discovered that if you cut the end out of a Trojan and rerolled it, you had a universal O-ring... And that you could waterproof your watch by dropping it into a Trojan and tying a knot in it. If you are saying to yourself, "Why in the hell would some sonuvabitch wanna do that?" You obviously never missed the last liberty boat and had to swim out to wherever your boat was swinging the hook. You could tell a frequent swimmer... He carried multiple rubbers and a laminated liberty card.

It was all too long ago in the land of DES SUB Piers.